Stem Cells and Morality

Count me among the number of those disturbed by President Obama’s lifting of the ban on stem cell research. The issue itself is beyond my expertise, but there’s a principle at stake and an approach taken that concerns me deeply.

The natural sciences are not morally neutral, they are subservient to morality. They are mere knowledge, which, in turn gives power. Knowledge may conceivably be regarded as morally neutral (I don’t think I see it that way, but I can see how people would). Power cannot. Power enables action. Action is always moral.

Therefore the moral sciences provide a higher order of knowledge than scientific knowledge.

These considerations make many scientists chafe because they hear Galileo’s trial and other events echoing across the ages. The Englightenment, they insist, finally set science free. 

It did not, for the simple reason that science cannot both exist and be free. It is always bound to the humans doing it. The Enlightenment freed science from the restraints of the Catholic church, to some extent, and from religious constraints generally, for the most part.

But it didn’t set science free from the appetites and ambitions of the scientists and those who pay them. The last century has, practically and philosophically, made clear that scientific knowledge is not morally neutral if only because human beings possess it and are empowered by it.

Let us grant, then, for the sake of argument, that science should be freed from religious constraints. Should it also be freed from moral constraints? And where do those morals come from? Historically, I can only see two options: metaphysics (philosophy) and religion.

The trouble with metaphysics is its practical instability. Plato made it rather obvious that only a few people can attain to the level of metaphysical clarity that can order a society. That is at least one reason why he never opposed religion per se.

For this reason, a democracy could never survive a scientific age in which morality is based on metaphysics. If, then, we have eliminated metaphysics (philosophy) and religion, then what will we base our decisions on?

This question cannot be dodged. Politics is the domain of decision making. What is permissible in the American decision making process? Have we formally rejected religion as an element of decision making.

So again I ask: On what will we base our decisions?

The will of the people? God help us.

What is possible? Lord have mercy.

The will of an elite? Yes, that seems to be where we are headed.

What saves us so far is a constitution that restrains each of these options. That and our national customs and traditions. There are some things we just won’t tolerate. But that changes somewhat rapidly. I’ve begun to qualify to the point of rambling, but I don’t want to give the impression of hysteria. The Spirit of God is still at work.

I would urge you to read CS Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength to understand the philosophy that is poisoning our country and souls. If that is too long, read The Abolition of Man. If that is too hard (it’s his most important book), read a short essay in his book Christian Reflections called The Poison of Subjectivism. Begin with the last and work your way backward if you prefer.

You might also want to take a look at this blog by one of my favorite bloggers, John Mark Reynolds.


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